What could not the imperial wife do? It turns out quite a lot.
Since the time of Ivan the Terrible, the tsar has been choosing a bride for himself at the brides’ review – a tradition borrowed from Byzantium. The most beautiful girls from noble families were brought to Moscow from all over the country, and several of them were chosen by the king’s matchmakers. Nobleness and wealth did not matter, only the beauty and health of the bride. 6 or 7 women were eventually invited to the royal chambers, so that the groom himself made a choice. After being elected king, the girl will be “named queen”, and only then can the wedding take place.
Live and die like a queen
It was believed that the first wife of Ivan the Terrible (1530–1584), Anastasia Romanovna Zakharyina-Yuryeva (1530–1560), was poisoned or “spoiled” by order of the boyars (many of them were tortured and executed after her death). The king was devastated, but his second wife also died early, and the third, Martha Sobakina, died two weeks after the wedding in 1571 (this also led to the execution of many people, including Martha’s relatives). Most likely, the cause was poisoning.
Maria Khlopova (d. 1633), the first bride of Mikhail Fedorovich (1596-1645), the first Russian Tsar from the Romanov dynasty, fell ill shortly after her engagement with the Tsar, she had vomited for several days. This was enough for the boyars to declare her unsuitable for marriage and sent to exile. Then, the second bride of Mikhail, Maria Dolgorukaya (1608–1625), died 5 months after being named queen. Therefore, when Mikhail chose his third bride, Evdokia Streshnev (1608–1645), he brought her to the palace just three days before the appointed wedding – the tsar was afraid that Evdokia could also be poisoned.
Many would like the death of the young queen – first of all, relatives of those girls who were not chosen at the brides ’show. Therefore, in the 17th century, strict measures were taken in the palace to protect the women of the royal family.
Ashes in the wake
When the noblewoman became queen, she was no longer allowed to visit her relatives. She was now generally forbidden to see ordinary people (and ordinary people – her). Therefore, parents and other close relatives of the royal bride moved to the palace and were given high court posts.
The Tsar’s palace in the Kremlin was huge: with hundreds of rooms, a good half of which belonged to the female part. The queen and her daughters did not take part in official ceremonies, where men were present. But they had their own ceremonial hall – the Tsarina’s Golden Chamber. Here, on her throne, the queen received guests during major Orthodox holidays and her name day. These were the only days when she could see people previously unfamiliar to her – mainly representatives of the clergy, the boyars and their wives. When the tsarina and her daughters went to monasteries outside of Moscow, they rode in closed carriages. When they left the carriage and went to church, the servants held velvet curtains around them, protecting women from prying eyes.
In the female half, all the servants were also women. The highest of them named top of Vym Boyarynya. The boyar-treasurer monitored the tsarina’s treasury, from where donations were given and where gifts were received. The noblewoman-kravchaya was in charge of the tsarina’s table, the noblewoman-bed-maids were subordinate to the maidservants, and the noble-noblewoman — the craftsmen from the tsarina’s workshop. One of the nobles was also a judge of all conflicts and crimes within women’s chambers.
However, if serious crimes, such as the evil eye or black magic, were suspected, the case was referred to the Secret Affairs Order, an institution of political investigation, which the king personally controlled.
In 1638, workers at the tsarina’s workshop reported that one of their girls, Daria Lamanova, had stolen fabric intended for the queen’s underwear. The investigation revealed that Daria had seen the healer Nastasya and sprinkled ash on the trail of Tsarina Evdokia – an alleged attempt to curse the queen! All the women involved in the case were questioned in the Secret Affairs Order and eventually died of torture.
In addition to the horse nobles, the queen had about 50 more maidservants – “visiting nobles”, who made up her retinue, but did not live in the palace. there were also younger noblemen — hay maids, who were brought up with the daughters of the king and were their friends and the only society. At the same time, they carried out the instructions of the princesses and helped (served) them in everyday life. In addition, there was a whole army of girls and female servants – inmates, nurses, craftswomen, nannies and midwives. There were special women who read aloud to the queen and her daughters, sang religious hymns, in the royal chambers there were also dwarfs, fools, women jesters – in general, all kinds of strange and outlandish women.
There were also male servants. First of all, it was the priests who performed services in the tsarina’s rooms (like the tsar, she had a home church and a separate prayer room next to her bedroom). In addition, several dozen stolnik youths (10-15 years old) helped the queen and her daughters at the table; but as soon as they reached maturity, they were sent from the female half. About 100 adult men in the rank of “children of the boyars” guarded the chambers day and night, but they were not allowed to see women from the royal family. For example, the stoves in the female half were arranged so that they could be heated from the next room – the stokers did not go into the room where the princesses were.
In addition to visiting churches and monasteries, the queen had a charitable and official “work”. Often the boyars, nobles, court people and their wives sent their petitions directly to the tsarina, and not to the tsar – the tsarina had fewer state duties and could appeal directly to the monarch; besides, she needed to maintain her reputation as an “intercessor for the weak” – so that petition to the empress was often resolved positively. Another thing is that such an opportunity was not provided to everyone.
The queen also devoted a lot of time to making expensive robes, mostly spiritual ones, often making embroidery herself. The vestment embroidered by the queen was one of the most magnificent gifts that a senior hierarch could receive from the Russian royal family.
The queen spent the evenings with her husband and family. They could play chess, read the Bible or spiritual literature, listen to stories told by travelers or pilgrims, who were often invited to entertain the king and his family. The king could spend the night in the rooms of the queen, but this was not a common occurrence and required special security measures.
The female half of the palaces as a phenomenon is a thing of the past under Peter the Great (1672–1725). His mother, Natalya Naryshkina (1651–1694), was the first Russian tsarina to attend a theatrical performance. She loved to dance and watch diplomatic receptions, which she also considered a kind of entertainment. She literally turned over the old habits and rules of women in the royal family, and her son did the same in the whole state – by the 18th century the Russian court was already very similar to the European one. It was only in their old towers in Moscow that the sisters of Peter, the princess, who refused to live in a new way, lived out their 17th century.